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Hunter Matheson



Granger and Matheson


Sometimes you learn too much when you’re sitting on the bridge not listening.


Yeah, not listening. That’s the job up there: having convos float around you, the head shed talkin’ like you’re not there, ‘cause basically you’re not. Well, you are and you aren’t; you’re not supposed to listen, sworn to silence like the suits that walk around with diplomats, ears wired, sensor lenses in place to give instant readout on every single person that passes by, every building, every vehicle. They watch the dip’s area for danger and pull ‘em out and cover their tracks if need be. Sometimes it’s because the dip does something stupid; sometimes it’s the opposition getting a jump. Doesn’t matter; the result is often the same and usually not pretty.


The suits heard every word, but they didn’t hear it, like Kal “didn’t hear anything” as the conversation bounced from Captain Granger to Captain Ja’Lale to Commander Rinax, to Ambassador Arleth, then back again. They were getting nowhere, just like before. But he didn’t know that.


His fingers tapped against the helm chair, a nervous reaction Kal picked up a bit ago, when he knew something was going down but was powerless to stop it.


It was one of those little-known OPS involving an eight-man team on an easy-in, easy-out, basic recon mission on a planetoid close to the RNZ. He was the SWCC, the Swickie, the Special Warfare Craft Crewman, flying a top-of-the-line uber-tech shuttle they called a drop-ship, the kind that doesn’t exist, but it does. You get the picture.


Someone had set up a listening post in Fed territory. Or someone thought someone had set up a listening post in Fed territory. Yeah, it was one of those things, one of those decisions.


The brass suspected it was Romulan. How they figured that one was anybody’s guess, because if it was Romulan no one would have detected it, especially the Federation - but who was he to question? He was the Swickie, their transportation.


Anyway, to be sure it was or it wasn’t, brass decided they’d send down eight of the best and brightest, the highest trained operations personnel they could find, 1/1 FORECON, to check it out.


The drumming on the helm chair turned into a nervous tick.


Going in was dicey: odd atmospheric eddies almost flipped the drop-ship several times, then a natural sensor blackout area scrambled all their nav gear and sensors, making it even more dicey. He figured it was a good thing they trained him to work without everything but the engines, and sometimes that happened, but he prayed it wouldn’t. Glide ratio in a drop-ship is nil; it’d be like landing a skyscraper without wings. His eight-man “cargo” in their five-points hung on and bit down on their mouth guards. A few lost their lunch. No problem; happens all the time.


They made it down. They didn’t all make it back.


Kal’s vital signs skyrocketed. His face flushed. Deep, controlled tactical breathing didn’t help. Feeling a hand on his shoulder a few seconds later, he catapulted from the helm chair, spun into full defense, and pinned his attacker with a one-handed throat-crushing grip, his elbow poised to smash in the skull.


It was Captain Granger. Her instantaneous head-twist/duck and parry countered his move and pinned his hand to his back, pressing him into the console before ordering bridge security to stand down.


“Gunny,” she whispered calmly into his ear as soon as she felt him relax beneath her hold, “you’re with me. Kozlowski,” she spoke a little louder, “take helm. Captain, Commander,” she slowly released him as he came back to reality, then turned to face them, “Gunnery Sergeant Matheson and I need a moment.”


Ten minutes later they were in her office on the Marine deck, door secure, the light outside the door signaled a secure conference, and all windows were blanked out. Kal’s coffee was turning cold in his hands. One leg bounced nervously while he talked to the floor. Captain Granger listened quietly until he finished and looked up for the first time.


“How’d ya know, Cap?” he asked, squeezing away tears with his free hand.


“I knew you were there,” she responded with practiced calm. “I knew it would happen some time. Operation Blackout is legend in JSOC.* Every star on that wall is a testimony to their sacrifice. Thanks to you it won’t happen again.


“And I know the look, Gunny," she continued with a sigh. "It’s been coming on ever since we achieved orbit.” Her head ticked to the side, pausing long enough for him to interject if he had a mind. “CPTS* isn’t something to mess with. You know the routine. Now the question is: what’s your choice? Can you suck it up? Be a Marine?”


Kal put his cup aside, stood to attention, and said somewhat convincingly, “Ma’am, yes ma’am.”


Captain Granger studied him a long moment, then moved around to give him a long, hard stare. “Very well. But consider this, Gunnery Sergeant Matheson. If Lieutenant Reed had put a hand on your shoulder you would have killed her.”


Kal swallowed hard. The tears returned.


“Your record says you had a week of counseling.”


“Yes, ma’am.”


“That doesn’t cut it, Kal. CPTS needs more than that. Before you return to your post, you will report to Doctor Hanson for a full psychological evaluation and scheduled counseling. Until she determines that you are fit for duty, you will confine your shift duties to the Marine deck. Got it?”


“Yes, ma’am.”


JSOC - Joint Special Operations Command

CPTS - Combat Post Traumatic Stress

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